Bearing sharp, blue-eyed features and the outward demeanor of an everyday Joe, Ed Harris possesses a quiet, charismatic strength and intensity capable of electrifying the screen. During the course of his lengthy career, he has proven his talent repeatedly in roles both big and small, portraying characters both villainous and sympathetic.
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Born Edward Allen Harris in Tenafly, NJ, on November 28, 1950, Harris was an athlete in high school and went on to spend two years playing football at Columbia University. His interest in acting developed after he transferred to the University of Oklahoma, where he studied acting and gained experience in summer stock. Harris next attended the California Institute of the Arts, graduating with a Fine Arts degree. He went on to find steady work in the West Coast theatrical world before moving to New York. In 1983, he debuted off-Broadway in Sam Shepard's Fool for Love in a part especially written for him. His performance won him an Obie for Best Actor. Three years later, he made his Broadway debut in George Firth's Precious Sons and was nominated for a Tony. During the course of his career, Harris has gone on to garner numerous stage awards from associations on both coasts.
Harris made his screen debut in 1977's made-for-television movie The Amazing Howard Hughes. The following year, he made his feature-film debut with a small role in Coma (1978), but his career didn't take off until director George Romero starred Harris in Knightriders (1981). The director also cast him in his next film, Creepshow (1982). Harris' big break as a movie star came in 1983 when he was cast as straight-arrow astronaut John Glenn in the film version of Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff. Twelve years later, Harris would again enter the world of NASA, this time playing unsung hero Gene Krantz (and earning an Oscar nomination) in Ron Howard's Apollo 13.
The same year he starred in The Right Stuff, Harris further exhibited his range in his role as a psychopathic mercenary in Under Fire. The following year, he appeared in three major features, including the highly touted Places in the Heart. In addition to earning him positive notices, the film introduced him to his future wife, Amy Madigan, who also co-starred with him in Alamo Bay (1985). In 1989, Harris played one of his best-known roles in The Abyss (1989), bringing great humanity to the heroic protagonist, a rig foreman working on a submarine. He did further notable work in David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross, and turned in a suitably creepy performance as Christof, the manipulative creator of Truman Burbank's world in Peter Weir's The Truman Show (1998). Harris earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his work. The following year, he could be seen in The Third Miracle, starring as a Catholic priest who finds his faith sorely tested.
The new millennium found Harris' labor of love, the artist biopic Pollock, seeing the light of day after nearly a decade of development. Spending years painting and researching the modernist painter, Harris carefully and lovingly oversaw all aspects of the film, including directing, producing, and starring in the title role. The project served as a turning point in Harris' remarkable career, showing audiences and critics alike that there was more to the man of tranquil intensity than many may have anticipated; Harris was nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award for his work. 2001 saw Harris as a German sniper with his targets set on Jude Law in the wartime suspense-drama Enemy at the Gates, and later as a bumbling Army captain in the irreverent Joaquin Phoenix vehicle Buffalo Soldiers. With his portrayal of a well known author succumbing to the ravages of AIDS in 2002's The Hours, Harris would recieve his fourth Oscar nominattion.
2004 found the actor working with Zooey Deschanel for Winter Passing, a psychological drama in which he played a one-time popular novelist who claims he is working on one last book. Harris was praised for his work in Empire Falls (2005), a two-part miniseries from HBO chronicling a middle-aged man who is concerned he has wasted his life, though his work as a scarred stranger with a score to settle in David Cronenberg's award-winning psychological thriller A History of Violence was his biggest success in 2005. In 2007, Harris played a Boston police detective in Ben Affleck's adaptation of author Dennis Lehane's Gone, Baby, Gone. A year later, Harris wrote, starred, directed, and produced Appaloosa, a western following a small town held under the thumb of a ruthless rancher and his crew, and continued to work throughout 2009 and 2010 in films including Once Fallen, Virginia, and The Way Back. Praise came his way once more in 2011's What I Am, a gentle coming-of-age comedy in which Harris plays a teacher who is a catalyst for the friendship of two young boys. In 2012, he earned Emmy and SAG nominations and a Golden Globe award for playing John McCain in the HBO movie Game Change. The next year had him appearing in six films, including playing a detective in Pain & Gain and voicing mission control in Gravity, a throwback to his earlier work in Apollo 13. ~ Sandra Brennan, Rovi